“Listen, I know you don’t like to celebrate, but happy birthday.”
– Charlie

Olivia Dunham likes to play things close to the vest. She’s normally stoic. She buries her feelings. But from time to time, those feelings bubble to the surface. Every year, on her birthday, her stepfather – who abused her mother – sends her a card to let her know that he’s still out there. It’s cruel that the one day of the year that’s supposed to be a celebration for Olivia is the one that she dreads. “The Cure” takes place on Olivia’s birthday, and because of this, she finds herself unusually emotionally invested in the case. But why this case as opposed to any other?

The case in “The Cure” is a typical Fringe case: someone is kidnapping people and turning them into microwave-generating weapons. It features the usual dose of wacky fringe science (the kidnapping victims were all receiving an experimental treatment for Bellini’s lymphocemia) and gratuitous gore (Yay! Exploding heads!) At first glance, there’s nothing about it that would especially concern Olivia. Arguably, she would have gotten emotionally involved in any case that she had to investigate on her birthday. She once had the opportunity to kill her abusive stepfather, but he recovered from the injuries that she inflicted upon him with a gun. Olivia explains her feelings to Peter:

“I still blame myself because I should have done it. I should have killed him. And I know that rationally, he is not responsible for all the bad things in the world, but he is responsible for some of them.”

Olivia has a massive guilt complex, and as such, she feels responsible for the bad things that are happening to the kidnap victims. She knows that she’s not directly responsible, but she considers herself indirectly responsible for not preventing them.

However, that’s only half the story, and Olivia would have felt emotionally attached to any case that she had to investigate on her birthday. What’s special here is the foe that she is facing. Olivia never had the chance to confront her stepfather after he recovered from the gunshot wounds. The cards that he sends her taunt her, and she’s powerless to do anything about them. Similarly, she also feels powerless when she’s working on the case. Olivia’s investigation leads her to Intrepus, whose chief scientist is the arrogant David Esterbrook. Olivia would like nothing more than to take him down, to prove that not even powerful people are above the law.

But she can’t do it alone. Cracking the case and getting to Esterbrook would require some less-than-scrupulous methods, ones that Olivia can’t use as an FBI agent. It’s Peter to the rescue this time. He asks for help from Nina Sharp, who gives him the information necessary to close the case in exchange for a favour to be called in at any time in the future.

“The Cure” is the episode in which we start to see the stirrings of a possible romance between Olivia and Peter. We see that Peter is willing to go to great lengths to come to Olivia’s aid, even if it means making a sacrifice by putting himself at Nina’s mercy. Curiously, there is also no mention of John Scott in this episode, as if to emphasize the importance of Olivia and Peter’s developing relationship.

Thus, “The Cure” is an important episode for setup. It builds the foundations of a possible romance between Peter and Olivia, it gives Nina a connection to someone other than Olivia, and it even hints at a past friendship between Walter and Nina. It’s the first episode that really delves into Olivia’s past (which we’ll learn more about in subsequent episodes). “The Cure” ends with Olivia finding a card from her stepfather in her mail. Olivia may have won the battle by arresting Esterbrook and solving the case, but she has yet to win the wars of her past.

For more information on the Fringe rewatch project, please click here.

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